Journey Around My Bedroom: Interview with Director Jaclyn Biskup

“Journey Around My Bedroom” is an online family theater project directed by Jaclyn Biskup and launching virtually courtesy of the New Ohio Theater.

“Journey Around My Bedroom” mixes actors with puppets and employs Zoom technology to set scenes. The story follows an imaginative little girl named Xavi who is stranded at home alone when a stranger arrives and asks for her assistance fixing a flying machine, Xavi joins him in exploring the depths of her room.

Each performance ends with an interactive segment which enables audience members to meet the puppeteers, ask questions, and explore the behind-the-scenes intricacies. Moreover, audience members will also receive a printable puppet template that they can make and color at home.

Director Jaclyn Biskup has spent more than two decades working in the entertainment industry via theatre, television, and film. She received an Emmy nomination and was a Peabody Award finalist for her work on the digital documentary series The Secret Life Of Muslims and currently works as a creative producer at New Ohio Theatre. She recently discussed her career and this show via an exclusive interview.

MM: How did you discover your love for directing and how did you get into theater, television, and movies?

Jaclyn Biskup (JB): I’ve been involved in theatre since high school — I saw the kids rehearsing a play and I thought, I want to do that! I had the opportunity to direct very early — first in high school and then in college. However, I always thought I would pursue directing later in life. I assumed I would act in my 20’s and try directing when I was an actual adult. Luckily, early on, while interviewing for an assistant director position, the woman who was interviewing me, Patrizia Acerra, encouraged me to start my own company and just jump in! Shortly after working with her, I started The Mill in Chicago and began focusing exclusively on directing. I was discouraged by the type of roles that were available to young women and was eager to make my own work. After making my way in theatre and still having to work a day job, I decided maybe I could make a living and be happy in the TV/Film/digital world. I took an unpaid internship at a boutique company and was eventually offered a job there. I had the opportunity to work on some great documentaries, social justice, and branded content projects but I missed theatre terribly and after a two-year hiatus was thrilled to finally return to it.

MM: How did you find out about the New Ohio Theater and establish a repertoire with them?

JB: I left the boutique production company for a job as an associate producer at New Ohio. They were on my radar as a great downtown theatre company that fit perfectly with my own interests — weird, highly theatrical, adventurous work! I’ve been working there for three years and now serve as the creative producer.

MM: How did you first hear about “Journey Around My Bedroom” and how did you decide to transform an 18-century French novella into a kid’s show?

JB: About 10 years ago, I read an essay by Alain de Botton that mentions the novella and actually made an overhead projector piece for adults based on that piece. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do this year for our annual Theater for Young Minds program, I remembered that essay, and how much being stuck in your room really seemed to resonate with our current state. The novella by Xavier de Maistre is a travelogue he wrote during his 42 days of house arrest. Since he couldn’t leave his room, he turned his confinement into an opportunity to see his bedroom and his life with fresh eyes and find the profound in what is usually perceived as mundane. Of course, our piece is just inspired by this work and is very different in tone and style.

MM: How different was it from other projects you worked on so far?

JB: This is pretty different. My last project was assisting on “The Minutes” on Broadway which was closed by the pandemic two days before it opened. Before that, I directed “Machinal” — an expressionistic masterpiece about the first woman to be sentenced and killed by the electric chair in the US. I would say, all of the work I’m drawn to is highly theatrical and usually pretty dark. This piece is for kids and since we’ve all been through so much this past year, I really just want it to be joyful, full of delight, and hopefully, an opportunity for families to come together and see and participate in some live theatre!

MM: How difficult was it to do this to a virtual platform?

JB: It’s a little insane to try to do a puppet show virtually, with all the actors in separate spaces. It’s basically like making a film with three cameras and a puppet show on top of that. Also, one of our actors is currently staying in San Diego so we are mailing her puppets to her! But this is the only way for us to make this project safely and I think that the logistics are worth it to do whatever we can to keep our artists and community safe.

MM: What segments of this show are your personal favorites and why?

JB: I love the whole thing, but honestly, the songs and lyrics written by Hyeyoung Kim and Dianne Nora are just the best. Who doesn’t love a great song? And, I am really looking forward to the moments of interaction we have in the show when the kids can turn their cameras on and be a part of the fun.

MM: What was it like to be a member of a team nominated for a Peabody Award and an Emmy? Did you attend the fabulous award ceremony?

JB: It was a huge honor. I did get to go to the Emmys and it was really wild because the last time I was at a fancy event at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where it’s held, I was a cater waiter and my old company was working that event so I knew a lot of the staff. The Peabody thing was cool — they announce the winners in advance, so I think mostly just the winners go.

MM: How do you think the world will change for theater directors now? What are your hopes in terms of post-Covid theater?

JB: I think everyone in theatre is going to have it very hard for a while. It was already very hard, and now, I suspect it will be almost impossible. So many theatres will close or have to slash their budgets. It’s going to be rough. Any day I’m directing is a very lucky day for me, so I hope that I will have some opportunities eventually. The American Theatre — like every aspect of our culture, needs to reckon with the sexism and racism that are ingrained in it. Women and People of Color have long been treated terribly and that all needs to stop. I am hopeful that anti-racism will be more than just a catchphrase and theatres will begin to do the hard work of undoing sexism and racism in their institutions. But, honestly, I think we have a lot of work and quite a fight ahead of us.

MM: What projects are coming up for you and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

JB: I teach a feminist scene study class that is currently on hiatus, but will return in the new year. It’s called Difficult Women+ Scene Study and it focuses on complex characters from contemporary female and non-binary playwrights in an empowered, inclusive, and affordable environment. Information about upcoming classes can be found on my website http://jaclynbiskup.com/.

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Tickets for live streaming shows are Pay-What-You-Will (suggested $25 for up to two viewers) and can be purchased through Ovationtix: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1033538. The video will be available on-demand and entitles viewers to the link from Jan 11 — Feb 11 (suggested $25 for up to two viewers) https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/store/34708/alldonations/35894/dept/1499.

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author of novels, short stories, and poems. She is also a produced playwright and an award-winning modern artist.